I argue that the televisual cosmetic surgical makeover is usefully understood as a contemporary manifestation of normalization, in Foucault’s sense—a process of deﬁning a population in relation to its conformity or deviance from a norm, while simultaneously generating narratives of individual authenticity. Drawing on detailed analysis of “Extreme Makeover,” I suggest that the show erases its complicity with creating homogeneous bodies by representing cosmetic surgery as enabling of personal transformation through its narratives of intrinsic motivation and authentic becoming, and its (...) deployment of fairy tale tropes. (shrink)
Representing the best popular and scholarly contributions to transgender/ sex studies, and with their mutual concern with female-to-male sex and gender crossing (among other topics), these three books mark an important shift in scholarship on gender and sexuality. Trans studies has reached a level of autonomy and sophistication that firmly establishes it as a field with its own theoretical and political questions. Of course, connections to feminist and queer theory are still very apparent in these texts, and all three authors (...) are committed—to varying degrees—to reading trans identities against the backdrop of male dominance and heteronormativity. It’s no longer enough, however, for feminist readers to dismiss the projects of trans theorists and activists as epiphenomenal to feminist discourses or even queer theory, or to view trans studies as an optional extra in discussions of sex and gender. These books represent the best arguments against this position, and thus offer a new challenge to the inclusivity, scope, and terms of “women’s studies.”. (shrink)
Philosophers sometimes hope that our discipline will be transformative for students, perhaps especially when we teach so-called philosophy of the body. To that end, this article describes an experimental upper-level undergraduate course cross-listed between Philosophy and Physical Education, entitled “Thinking Through the Body: Philosophy and Yoga.” Drawing on the perspectives of professor and students, we show how a somatic practice (here, hatha yoga) and reading texts (here, primarily contemporary phenomenology) can be integrated in teaching and learning. We suggest that the (...) course raised questions about the ethics of evaluation as well as about the split between theory and practice, which have larger pedagogical implications. (shrink)
Heyes' monograph in feminist philosophy is on the connection between the idea of "normalization"--which per Foucault is a mode or force of control that homogenizes a population--and the gendered body. Drawing on Foucault and Wittgenstein, she argues that the predominant picture of the self--a picture that presupposes an "inner" core of the self that is expressed, accurately or not, by the outer body--obscures the connection between contemporary discourses and practices of self-transformation and the forces of normalization. In other words, pictures (...) of the self can hold us captive when they are being read from the outer self--the body--rather than the inner self, and we can express our inner self by working on our outer body to conform. Articulating this idea with a mix of the theoretical and the practical, she looks at case studies involving transgender people, weight-loss dieting, and cosmetic surgery. Her concluding chapters look at the difficult issue of how to distinguish non-normalizing practices of the self from normalizing ones, and makes suggestions about how feminists might conceive of subjects as embodied and enmeshed in power relations yet also capable of self-transformation. -/- The subject of normalization and its relationship to sex/gender is a major one in feminist theory; Heyes' book is unique in her masterful use of Foucault; its clarity, and its sophisticated mix of the theoretical and the anecdotal. It will appeal to feminist philosophers and theorists. (shrink)
: This article argues that commercial weight-loss organizations appropriate and debase the askeses—practices of care of the self—that Michel Foucault theorized, increasing members' capacities at the same time as they encourage participation in ever-tightening webs of power. Weight Watchers, for example, claims to promote self-knowledge, cultivate new capacities and pleasures, foster self-care in face of gendered exploitation, and encourage wisdom and flexibility. The hupomnemata of these organizations thus use asketic language to conceal their implication in normalization.
Third wave anti-essentialist critique has too often been used to dismiss second wave feminist projects. I examine claims that Carol Gilligan's work is "essentialist," and argue that her recent research requires this criticism be rethought. Anti-essentialist feminist method should consist in attention to the relations of power that construct accounts of gendered identity in the course of different forms of empirical enquiry, not in rejecting any general claim about women or girls.
This dissertation seeks to fill two lacunae in contemporary feminist discussions of essentialism: first, a lack of critical analysis of the term "essentialism" and its cognates, and second, a paucity of feminist work that aims to develop anti-essentialist methods rather than merely presenting anti-essentialist critiques of existing feminist theories. I propose a typology of feminist essentialisms, distinguishing metaphysical, biological, linguistic, and methodological variants. I argue that methodological essentialism---understood as the practice of making false generalisations about women based on the experiences (...) and identities only of a particular group---is the most pressing political issue for feminists, and defend Elizabeth Spelman's anti-essentialist critique against its opponents. Anti-essentialism should not, however, be interpreted as disavowing the category "women" altogether, and I use Ludwig Wittgenstein's arguments in his Philosophical Investigations to articulate a form of feminist anti-essentialism. that understands similarities between women as family resemblances. This approach enables feminists to make generalisations about women that neither obscure important differences nor deminise our political efficacy. This Wittgensteinian feminism rejects the a priori and urges us to "look and see" to justify generalisations about women. I interpret this as a call for a feminist anti-essentialism that is embedded in feminist practice, and ask what "look and see" might mean for feminist research and for feminist organising against sexual violence. In chapter four, I argue that Carol Gilligan's recent work on girls' psychology in the context of race and class differences successfully responds to long-standing charges that her research is essentialist. It does not, however, fully meet the methodological challenge of anti-essentialism as it fails to acknowledge power relations embedded in research processes, which in turn shape conclusions about female identi. (shrink)